Unifor President Lana Payne, while negotiating with automaker executives, is trying to keep happy the very diverse membership that voted her into power.
That’s no easy feat, and it’s one similar to a political party trying to win a majority mandate. That didn’t happen for Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is governing with a minority. And similarly, ratification of the deal struck between Unifor and Ford almost didn’t happen.
Only 54 per cent of about 5,600 members voted in favour of the contract. That’s because skilled-trades workers at Ford plants in Windsor and Oakville, Ont., took serious issue with the negotiated pension, which fell short of their expectations.
All along, we were told that pensions were the sticking point.
That’s mainly because skilled trades comprise an aging workforce with retirement top of mind.
At the same time, there were junior members stuck at the lowest pay scale, some living in the high-cost Greater Toronto Area. And, of course, everyone wanted a raise.
It’s similar to a federal party attempting to win the right to govern by making promises to Quebec and the Prairies, as well as to young, old, rural and urban voters. Campaigns and negotiating committees alike need to find the balance to keep all their constituents happy some of the time. Or at least enough of the people happy to vote them into power — or ratify a contract. And that’s exactly what Payne and Co. did.
They hammered out a Ford deal that includes the biggest signing bonus in contract history, valued at $10,000 before taxes. It includes the biggest raise in contract history — increases of 10, two and three per cent in each year of the three-year deal. The cost-of-living allowance is back, something gone so long ago that junior members hired after 2008 might never have heard of it.
There’s little doubt that the low ratification results weren’t what Unifor Local 200 President John D’Agnolo was hoping for.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” he told me. “But when you’re in front of a bargaining table, you’re focused on everybody. And this was the case here. We had to make sure that we had huge improvements for those low-seniority workers because the cost of living has gone through the roof.”
Spoken very much like a politician playing all sides.
Perhaps D’Agnolo and Payne might one day run for office. This Ford deal proves they can do just enough to win the majority, even if only by the slimmest of margins.
And in politics, and contract ratification, that’s all that’s needed.